Sealant vs. Dental Fillings: A Guide to Choosing the Best Treatment for Your Cavities

Sealant vs. Dental Fillings: A Guide to Choosing the Best Treatment for Your Cavities
Sealant vs. Dental Fillings: A Guide to Choosing the Best Treatment for Your Cavities | Junior Smiles of Stafford

When it comes to treating cavities in your child’s teeth, you want to ensure that you’re making the best decision for their oral health. Two common treatments—dental sealants and dental fillings—often come up in conversation. But which one is the right choice? This article will provide a comprehensive overview to help you make an informed decision.

Dental sealants are like a shield for your child’s teeth. They’re applied on the chewing surfaces of back teeth to protect them from bacteria that cause cavities. Think of them as a preventive measure, especially useful for kids prone to tooth decay. Dental fillings, however, come into play when a tooth is already damaged by decay. They help restore the tooth’s function.

Choosing between sealants and fillings depends on various factors such as how far the decay has progressed, your child’s age, and more. Stick around as we delve deeper into these two treatments, helping you ensure your child’s smile stays bright and healthy.

Sealant and Dental Fillings Defined

In the realm of oral health, dental sealants and fillings are two common treatments that aim to protect your teeth from decay and maintain a healthy, bright smile. They may sound similar, but they have different functions and are used in different situations.

Let’s break down these terms to understand what they mean and how they can help keep your child’s teeth healthy.

Dental sealants are preventive—they stop cavities before they start. On the flip side, dental fillings are restorative. They come into play once a cavity has already formed. 

These treatments are not interchangeable, and the right choice depends on the current state of your child’s teeth and their risk for future decay.

What is a Dental Sealant?

A dental sealant is like a superhero’s shield for your child’s molars—the back teeth that do most of the chewing. It’s a thin, protective layer that’s painted onto these teeth.

The sealant quickly bonds into the depressions and grooves of the teeth, forming a protective shield over the enamel of each tooth. Why is this important? Well, every time your child eats, tiny food particles can get stuck in these grooves. 

It can attract bacteria, leading to cavities. But with a sealant acting as a barrier, this can be prevented. Dental sealants are particularly useful for children who are at a higher risk of developing tooth decay.

What are Tooth Sealants Made Of?

You might be wondering what material is used to create this protective barrier. Dental sealants are made from a plastic material known as resin. The resin is safe and has been used in dentistry for many years.

When the dentist applies the sealant, the resin flows into the deep grooves on the tooth’s chewing surface. It’s like filling a tiny valley with a clear, protective material. Once the sealant hardens, it becomes a durable plastic coating, creating long-lasting protection against decay.

Remember, while dental sealants are highly effective at preventing cavities, they are not a substitute for regular brushing and flossing. Good oral hygiene is still essential to keep your child’s teeth healthy and strong.

Types of Sealants

Dental sealants play a crucial role in preventing tooth decay, especially in children. They act as barriers, protecting the enamel by sealing off grooves and depressions where food particles can get trapped. 

There are several types of sealants available, each with its own unique properties and uses. Let’s look into the different types of dental sealants to give you a better understanding of their features and benefits.

Resin-Based Sealants

Resin-based sealants are the most common type used in dental practices today. They are made from a plastic material that is painted onto the tooth and then hardened with a special light. 

The results in a durable, clear or white layer that effectively seals off the grooves and depressions on the tooth surface. Resin-based sealants are highly effective at preventing cavities, but they require a completely dry environment during application, which can sometimes be challenging to achieve, particularly with young children.

Glass Ionomer Sealants

Glass ionomer sealants are another type of dental sealant. They are made from a mixture of acrylic and a specific type of glass material. The unique feature of glass ionomer sealants is that they release fluoride over time, providing additional protection against tooth decay. 

They do not require a dry environment for application and bond well with the tooth surface. However, they are less durable than resin-based sealants and may need to be replaced more frequently.

Polyacid-Modified Resins

Polyacid-modified resins, also known as compomers, are a hybrid between resin-based and glass ionomer sealants. They combine the durability of resin-based sealants with the fluoride-releasing properties of glass ionomer sealants.

Compomers offer excellent adhesion to the tooth surface and are resistant to moisture, making them a practical choice for many patients.

What is a Dental Filling? 

A dental filling is a type of restorative dental treatment used to repair minimal tooth fractures, tooth decay, or otherwise damaged surfaces on the teeth. When a tooth has been damaged by decay, the dentist will remove the decayed portion of the tooth and then “fill” the area where the decayed material was removed. 

Fillings are also used to repair cracked or broken teeth and teeth that have been worn down from misuse, such as from nail-biting or tooth-grinding.

What Are Preventative Dental Fillings Made Of? 

Preventive dental fillings, also known as preventive resin restorations (PRRs), are a treatment method used to prevent tooth decay. These fillings are small and shallow, applied to areas of the tooth that are at risk for decay but have not yet developed a full cavity.

Preventive dental fillings are made from a composite resin material, which is the same material used for cosmetic tooth-coloured fillings. The material is durable and blends in with the natural color of the tooth, making it a discreet option for preventing tooth decay. 

The composite resin material is applied directly to the tooth and hardened with a special light, creating a strong, protective layer that bonds securely with the tooth structure.

Types of Dental Fillings

Just as there are different types of dental sealants, there are also various types of dental fillings. Fillings are an essential part of dentistry and are used to restore teeth damaged by decay back to their normal function and shape. 

The type of filling used often depends on the extent of the repair, whether you have allergies to certain materials, where in your mouth the filling is needed, and the cost. Let’s explore some common types of dental fillings.

Amalgam Fillings

Amalgam fillings, often referred to as “silver fillings,” have been used in dentistry for more than a century. They are made from a mixture of metals, including silver, mercury, tin, and copper. Amalgam fillings are durable, making them a good choice for large fillings and those in the back teeth, where a lot of force is exerted during chewing. 

They are also relatively inexpensive compared to other types of fillings. However, they are more noticeable than tooth-colored fillings and aren’t usually used in visible areas, such as the front teeth.

Composite Fillings

Composite fillings are made from a resin composed of plastic and fine glass particles. They are color-matched to the rest of your teeth, making them a popular choice for fillings that are in visible areas. 

Composite fillings bond directly to the tooth, providing further support. However, these fillings might not be as durable as other types and may not be suitable for large fillings as they may chip or wear over time.

Ceramic Fillings

Ceramic fillings are made from porcelain and are a very aesthetically pleasing option, as they can be color-matched closely to your natural teeth. They are also resistant to staining and abrasion. 

However, ceramic fillings can be quite brittle compared to composite resin fillings and can break under pressure, so they may not be suitable for molars.

Pros and Cons of Dental Fillings and Sealants

Both dental fillings and sealants have their advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, they both play crucial roles in preventing and treating tooth decay and can save a lot of time, money, and discomfort in the long run.

Dental fillings can restore a tooth damaged by decay back to its normal function and shape, and with advancements in dentistry, they can be closely matched to your natural teeth. However, fillings do not prevent further decay and require good oral hygiene and regular dental visits to check on their condition.

On the other hand, sealants are an effective preventive measure, particularly for children who are at higher risk for cavities. They provide a protective shield over the enamel, preventing bacteria from forming cavities. 

But, sealants can only be applied to the chewing surface of back teeth, and other areas of the teeth remain at risk for decay. They also need regular check-ups for chipping or wearing.

Benefits of Tooth Sealants

Dental sealants are a proven and effective method to prevent tooth decay, particularly in children. They are typically applied to the chewing surfaces of back teeth where decay often begins.

Let’s look into some key benefits of dental sealants.

Effective Prevention Against Decay

One of the primary benefits of dental sealants is their effectiveness in preventing tooth decay. By providing a protective barrier on the tooth surface, sealants prevent food particles and bacteria from settling into the crevices of the teeth, significantly reducing the risk of cavities.

Easy and Painless Application

The process of applying sealants is quick, easy, and painless. The sealant is painted onto the tooth surface and hardened with a special light. There’s no drilling or removal of tooth structure required, making it an entirely non-invasive procedure.

Long-lasting Protection

Once applied, dental sealants can last up to 10 years with proper care. Regular dental check-ups will ensure that the sealants remain intact and continue to provide protection against decay.

Disadvantages of Sealants

While dental sealants offer many benefits, they also have some drawbacks. It’s important to understand these potential disadvantages to make an informed decision about your oral health care.

Not Suitable for All Teeth

Sealants are only applicable to the chewing surfaces of back teeth. They can’t be applied to teeth with fillings or existing decay, and they don’t provide protection for areas between teeth or any other surfaces.

Potential for Sealant Breakdown

Over time, dental sealants can chip or wear away, reducing their effectiveness. Regular dental check-ups are required to monitor the condition of the sealants and reapply them if necessary.

False Sense of Security

While sealants provide excellent protection against decay, they are not a substitute for good oral hygiene. There’s a risk that individuals with sealants may neglect regular brushing and flossing, believing the sealants will take care of all cavity protection.

Benefits of Dental Fillings

Dental fillings are a common and effective treatment for cavities. They restore the function, integrity, and shape of the tooth structure that has been damaged by decay or fracture. 

Let’s explore some key benefits of dental fillings.

Restores Tooth Function and Structure

The primary benefit of a dental filling is its ability to restore a decayed tooth back to its normal function and shape. It allows for normal eating and speaking abilities, improving overall quality of life.

Prevents Further Decay

By closing off spaces where bacteria can enter, a filling helps prevent further decay. The materials used in fillings also include fluoride, which can help prevent decay.

Cosmetic Improvement

With advancements in dental technology, fillings can be made to match the color of your natural teeth, providing a more natural appearance. It makes them a good choice for visible parts of your teeth and can help improve confidence and self-esteem.

Disadvantages of Sealants

While sealants are an effective preventive measure against tooth decay, they do come with a few drawbacks that should be considered.

Not Comprehensive Coverage

Sealants are only applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth, leaving other areas of the tooth still exposed and vulnerable to decay. They cannot be applied to teeth with fillings or teeth that show signs of decay.

Durability Concerns

Over time, sealants can chip or wear away, reducing their effectiveness. It means they may need to be re-applied every few years, depending on the individual’s oral health habits and wear and tear.

Potential Allergic Reactions

Although rare, some people may have an allergic reaction to the materials used in dental sealants. It’s important to discuss any known allergies with your dentist before having sealants applied.

How to Choose between Sealant and Fillings?

The choice between sealants and fillings largely depends on your individual oral health needs. If you have deep pits and fissures in your teeth but no signs of decay, sealants might be the best preventive measure. However, if decay has already set in, a filling will be necessary to restore the tooth and prevent further damage.

Your dentist will be able to assess your teeth and provide the best recommendation based on your oral health status. Always remember, the best strategy is a preventative one – regular brushing, flossing, and dental check-ups can help avoid the need for either treatment.

Dental Fillings and Sealants FAQs

Do fillings stop cavities?

Fillings do not stop cavities, but they do restore the tooth after the decay has been removed. They also help prevent further decay by closing off spaces where bacteria can enter.

Can you get sealants on teeth with fillings?

No, sealants are applied to the chewing surfaces of the back teeth that do not have fillings or decay.

Are sealants better than fillings?

Sealants and fillings serve different purposes. Sealants are a preventive measure used to protect teeth from decay, while fillings are a restorative measure used to repair teeth after decay has occurred.

Can tooth sealants be removed?

Yes, sealants can be removed by a dentist if necessary. However, they usually wear away naturally over time.

Can you get cavities after sealants?

While sealants significantly reduce the risk of cavities, they do not eliminate the possibility entirely. Good oral hygiene is still necessary to prevent cavities on other parts of the teeth not covered by sealants.

What to avoid after dental sealant?

After getting dental sealants, avoid chewy or hard foods for a few hours to allow the sealant to fully set. Regular brushing and flossing should be continued but with a bit more gentle care for a couple of days after the procedure.

Secure Your Child’s Healthy Smile Today

At Junior Smiles of Stafford, we understand the importance of starting dental care early to ensure a lifetime of healthy smiles. Whether it’s the application of sealants for cavity prevention or dental fillings to treat existing decay, our team is committed to providing the highest quality of care in a welcoming and child-friendly environment.

We believe in educating our young patients and their parents about the benefits and drawbacks of different treatments, helping them make informed decisions about their oral health. With a focus on preventive care, we aim to reduce the need for more extensive treatments later on.

Ready to take the next step in your child’s oral health journey? Schedule an appointment with our expert team at Junior Smiles of Stafford today. Let’s work together to create a foundation for a lifetime of healthy, happy smiles!